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Weekly Firebreak Roundup: All The News That's Fit to Hide
The media routinely amplifies groundless health scares and suppresses stories they’d rather the public not know about. Join us each week as we expose the gullible and ideological reporters who try to spin the news.
Juries turn on plaintiffs lawyers in glyphosate litigation
Since buying Monsanto in 2018, pharmaceutical giant Bayer has battled thousands of baseless lawsuits alleging that its flagship (and low-toxic) weedkiller Roundup causes cancer. These cases were the result of a deliberate campaign orchestrated by activist groups and trial lawyers who want to see Bayer’s agricultural products off the market. Firebreak editor David Zaruk has helpfully summarized the scandal here.
Monsanto lost the first series of cases that went to trial in California, and Bayer eventually settled thousands more for $11 billion; the media covered every aspect of these developments.
Beginning in 2021, however, the company started to rack up consecutive wins—nine in a row as of September 2023. Suddenly, the press has little to say about the litigation. A few regional papers and science-focused outlets have covered the story, but it was mostly left to individual experts, like chemist Simon Maechling on X, to inform the public of Bayer’s change of fortune.
The takeaway: reporters love a good David-vs-Goliath story, even if it’s a lie. When juries start to reconsider the dishonest narrative presented by tort lawyers in a major product liability suit, the media would rather pretend nothing happened.
Court rejects $224 million verdict in baby powder-cancer suit
In a major victory for Johnson & Johnson, a New Jersey court has thrown out a verdict which ordered the company to pay $37.3 million, alongside $186.5 million in punitive damages, CBS reported on October 4. The three-judge panel ordered a new trial, finding that the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses “presented flawed or incomplete information” related to the possibility that talc-based baby powder causes ovarian cancer.
The media hasn’t ignored this story the way they have Bayer’s reversal of fortune in the glyphosate litigation. However, the American press has remained obnoxiously “wishy-washy” as one scientist put it, on the talc-cancer link.
A massive 2020 study of 250,000 women failed to find any evidence that baby powder increases the risk of cancer. Yet CBS’s response to that finding was to stress that “the lead author of the analysis called the results ‘very ambiguous.’"
Scientists are typically a cautious lot. They will almost always insist that their results are tentative and subject to revision. In this case, the study authors noted that they may have been unable “to identify a small increase in risk” [our emphasis]. CBS left that part of the study out of its coverage.
Other recent reporting on the talc litigation was even worse. In an October 18 story summarizing J&J’s attempts to settle thousands of related cases, Bloomberg repeated the plaintiffs’ allegation that the company “failed to alert consumers or regulators” to the risk posed by their product, without mentioning that there is absolutely no scientific justification for such an assertion.
Why so much anti-vaping hysteria?
Unheard contributing editor Lee Fang recently observed on X that the intense campaign to ban flavored nicotine vaping products (e-cigarettes) is “bizarre.” Since vaping is far safer than smoking and helps millions of people avoid tobacco, we would have picked a stronger adjective for the campaign—“preposterous,” or maybe even “malevolent.” But Fang’s point is well taken.
The American Vapor Manufacturers, the leading trade group representing the independent vapor industry, responded to Fang with a simple explanation: ideological billionaires have invested a king’s ransom in anti-vaping advocacy over the last decade. Naturally, the press has failed to cover this scandal as well.
Why would public health reporters refuse to cover a billionaire-backed scheme to kill a powerful smoking-cessation tool? Giving our reporting on the Guardian’s donors a boost, The International Network of Nicotine Consumers Organizations (INNCO) added that several influential media outlets are financed by the very same billioniares who fund anti-vaping advocacy.
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